Thursday, December 20, 2007

Derrida's "Of Grammatology"

In chapter two of his famous book "Of Grammatology", Derrida challenges the Saussaurean idea that the signifier is arbitrary and that speech has primacy over writing. I would actually agree with him on both issues, though Derrida himself seems to find the proof of his belief in elliptical statements of an ever more bewildering nature:

"Now we must think that writing is at the same time more exterior to speech, not being its “image” or its “symbol,” and more interior to speech, which is already in itself a writing. Even before it is linked to incision, engraving, drawing, or the letter, to a signifier referring in general to a signifier signified by it, the concept of the graphic [unit of a possible graphic system] implies the framework of the instituted trace, as the possibility common to all systems of signification. My efforts will now be directed toward slowly detaching these two concepts from the classical discourse from which I necessarily borrow them. The effort will be laborious and we know a priori that its effectiveness will never be pure and absolute."

Derrida seems to say that writing is not a mere "sign of a sign", but in some sense has primacy over speech. It (language) "implies the framework of the instituted trace": that is to say that all other forms of discourse are implied within it. Speech has already been "written" and has no primacy over writing, while the latter contains the necessary elements of all other discourse within its more finished structure.

Chomsky wasn't too taken with Derrida's ideas, regarding them as meaningless obscurantism.

"Noam Chomsky has expressed the view that Derrida uses "pretentious rhetoric" to obscure the simplicity of his ideas. He groups Derrida within a broader category of the Parisian intellectual community which he has criticized for, on his view, acting as an elite power structure for the well educated through "difficult writing" and obscurantism. Chomsky has indicated that he may simply be incapable of understanding Derrida, but he is suspicious of this possibility." (WIKIPEDIA on Derrida)

My own belief, is that when Saussure allowed that the signifier applied not to reality but to a concept in the mind, he was opening the door to a theory that could give primacy to writing. If speech is only expressing a concept in the mind, then that concept is surely best expressed when all the resources of language have been brought to bear on it! In other words, the initial interpretation (in speech) is simple and probably inadequate to express all the richness and ambiguity of the mind's concept. It is only after words have been honed, in writing, that language is able to best express the complexity of the mind's concept.


Anonymous Al said...

De-rida and de-writer are both important!

11:37 PM  
Anonymous Bilko said...

Oh shut up.

3:24 PM  

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